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The Challenges with Data Warehousing

Published
  • January 01 1999, 1:00am EST

Data warehousing has been one of THE hottest topics in the IT (information technology) arena. Technologists thrive on the latest buzzword, whether it is supply chain management, e-commerce or data warehousing. But these catchy names ultimately do not make a difference in the long-range success of technology ­ end users want solutions to their business problems, not buzzwords. IT managers, and the vendors that serve them, are at a crossroad. For the most part, IT has not been able to deliver on the promise of data warehousing and vendors have not been able to help them. This monthly column will talk about how to "deliver on the promise." Its goal is to help increase the adoption of technology so it is of long-range value to the companies who buy and use it. It will include examples illustrating what works and what doesn't work. This column is meant to benefit three groups: IT (those who implement the technology), the end users (those who use the technology) and the vendors (those who sell the technology).

Problems Causing Lack of Acceptance

Data warehousing hasn't always delivered on the promise. A range of unmet challenges has disillusioned executives and end users because:

  • Data warehousing has often taken more to implement than expected;
  • It has been difficult to define an effective implementation strategy;
  • It has been difficult to measure the impact ­ goals have been too broadly defined;
  • It has not provided the benefits promised ­ notably, easy end-user access to corporate data.

These problems have been further compounded because departments operate under pressure from quarterly corporate fiscal goals ­ an outlook not conducive to the long-term process of implementing a data warehouse, which spans 18 months to three years.
End users are hindered in their acceptance of data warehousing because they do not understand how it applies to their business and everyday jobs. They're not getting what they want or what they need. The problem lies in the lack of an adequate Customer Adoption Process: understanding the end users and their real needs, providing adequate resources to support their selection process and offering the follow-through implementation necessary to provide them with what they need, when they need it.

As a result, companies have become reluctant to continue to invest in data warehouse products. This is confirmed by a 1998 META Group data warehousing trends study, which shows that data warehousing projects as a percent of IT budget is declining in most segments.

Y2K implementations have become IT's number one priority, with strategic solutions being their number two priority. The trouble is that data warehousing is not even considered at a strategic level, even though strategic solutions can be built with it. This is because it is relegated to the category of "technology" in the end-user's mind. A consultant to Fortune 500 IT departments, Richard Branton, vice president of technology with Advanced Strategies, says, "People soon discover a new silver bullet. Now there are three things affecting interest in data warehousing. One, it is a nebulous term. Two, it is yesterday's news. And three, companies are concentrating on Y2K issues and strategic systems. These are competing with data warehousing and available budget dollars."

Most data warehousing vendors want to sell their products to the Fortune 1000. Unfortunately data warehousing is no longer a high priority for CIOs in these companies. Steven John, executive director for the Society for Information Management, confirms this situation saying, "CIOs are aware of data warehousing since it was a hot topic in the past. They have since delegated it to lower levels in the organization. It's no longer on their primary radar screen." Some vendors are finding it difficult to evolve from the technology (data warehousing, OLAP, OLTP, tools, etc.) point of view, which hinders end-users' acceptance and adoption.

A New Direction

Now, new buzzwords, such as "business intelligence" and "supply chain management," once again offer the promise of much-needed solutions. But a new name will not make a difference in the effective adoption of technology. Vendors and IT will run into the same dilemma as they did with data warehousing because the promised benefits will not materialize unless the adoption approach is changed.

Some vendors, recognizing that their products cannot do everything for the customer, are creating partnerships in order to provide a broader solution. But will this be enough to solve the dilemma? The greatest impact will occur when vendors change their perspective about their customers ­ their issues, business problems and concerns.

February's column will highlight the cause of the problem and the approach that helps companies overcome it.

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